The Art of Penguin Science Fiction: David Pelham

Posted: September 30 2012 in Artists, Heroes, Science Fiction
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David Pelham studied at St Martin’s School of Art in the 50s and had worked on the export magazine The Ambassador (later retitled International Textiles), the arts magazine Studio International and Harper’s Bazaar; he joined Penguin Books in 1968 after the departure of the great Alan Aldridge. Following the departure of Germano Facetti in 1972, David Pelham’s role as art director for fiction was expanded to overall art director. He left Penguin in 1979.

Pelham’s first covers for Penguin Science Fiction were for the 1971 reprints of Fred Hoyle‘s novels The Black Cloud (1957), Fifth Planet (co-authored with Geoffrey Hoyle, 1963) and October the First Is Too Late (1966).

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A Clockwork Orange

Among Pelham’s most iconic covers was that for a reprint of Anthony Burgess‘s classic novella A Clockwork Orange (1962) released to coincide with Stanley Kubrick‘s 1971 film adaptation.

The director had shown no interest in the remarketing of the book so Pelham had freedom to design the cover without too much reliance on the film. This classic image was actually a last minute job because the original commissioned artist had been unable to come up with anything satisfactory within the time available and Pelham had been forced to take on the job himself.

Pelham himself is not overly fond of the cover:

“I don’t like the image. I really don’t but it has become iconographic. I don’t like it because it was primarily done overnight, with very little thought, really. It was an emergency: a graphic design emergency because we had to a have a cover, because we’d miss the hit of the movie.”

Nevertheless the cover has become a pop art iconic image, adorning posters and t-shirts. While the film version was banned in the UK Pelham’s cover defined the film for many denied access to Kubrick’s masterpiece.

1972-73

Between 1972 and 1973 Pelham contributed another 13 covers for Penguin Science Fiction. Titles included Olaf Stapledon‘s Last and First Men (1930), Star Maker (1937) and Sirius (1944). Other titles were the novels Black Easter or Faust Aleph-Null (1968) by James Blish, Night of Light (1966) by Philip José Farmer, The Space Merchants (1953) by Frederik Pohl and Cyril M. Kornbluth, A Plague of Pythons (1965) by Frederik Pohl, The People: No Different Flesh (1967) by Zena HendersonThe Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch (1965) by Philip K Dick, A Cure for Cancer (1971) by Michael Moorcock and Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut; there were also two anthologies, The Penguin Science Fiction Omnibus edited by Brian Aldiss and Apeman, Spaceman edited by Harry Harrison and Leon E Stover..

Each cover used a ‘futuristic’ computer font for the author’s name printed in white against a black background; the lower quarter of each cover was a coloured band. The main picture was a symbolic rather than literal image. Strong primary colours dominated.

The J. G. Ballard Box Set

For A Cure for Cancer Pelham dispensed with the black background in favour of a graded airbrush style though he retained the coloured band across the bottom quatrer; this background style would be used again for his next set, a collection of four of J.G. Ballard books reprinted in 1974 and collected in a striking slipcase (see top of page). These covers would become as iconic as those of Alan Aldridge in the Sixties.

The books collected were Ballard’s Catastrophe novels The Wind from Nowhere (1961), The Drowned World (1962), The Drought (1965), and the short story collection The Terminal Beach (1964).

Pelham had met Ballard through Eduardo Paolozzi, who had taught sculpture at St Martin’s College. Paolozzi was a pioneering Pop Artist and founder of the Independent Group in 1952. His screenprints used collages of ‘junk’ from discarded material: magazines, film posters, etc. Pelham had also hired Paolozzi to design the cover for the Penguin edition of John Barth’s novel Lost in the Funhouse (1972)

Pelham was particularly inspired by Paolozzi’s book Abba Zabba ()

Four Dimensional Nightmare David Pelham 1972The picture of the partially submerged Crysler Building on the cover of  The Drowned World and the Cadillac Coupe de Ville from The Drought are based on a photographs from Evelyn Hofer‘s New York Proclaimed (1965).

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1974-75

Pelham contributed several more titles including the 1974 reprints of James Blish‘s The Day After Judgment (1971) and Ray Bradbury’s The Day it Rained Forever.

Pelham’s outstanding covers for Alfred Bester‘s The Demolished Man (1953) and Tiger! Tiger! (aka The Stars My Destination, 1956) adapted italian painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo‘s technique of creating portraits from pictures of objects arranged to make the likeness of a face; if you look very closely to the right of the left eye on the cover of Tiger! Tiger! you can just make out the tiny image of Bester’s anti-hero Gulliver Foyle.

The detail on these covers is astonishing: look carefully to the right of the left ‘eye’ on the cover of Tiger! Tiger!  and you will see the tiny figure of Gulliver Foyle drifting in space:

Gully Foyle

Copywriter Meaburn Staniland came up with the memorable blurb for Tiger! Tiger!:

‘Gully Foyle, liar, lecher, ghoul, walking cancer, obsessed by vengeance, he’s the 24th century’s most valuable commodity but he doesn’t know it. His story is one of the great classics of science fiction.’

Pelham also revisited Fred Hoyle‘s The Black Cloud (1957), Fifth Planet (co-authored with Geoffrey Hoyle, 1963)  and October the First Is Too Late (1966).

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